A simple test can help fight a silent killer

It's known as the silent killer and a person may not even know they have it until suffering a potentially fatal stroke or heart attack.

Dr Maggie Ireland checks Carole Coyne's blood pressure

It's known as the silent killer and a person may not even know they have it until suffering a potentially fatal stroke or heart attack. Jane Picken has the details about high blood pressure.

Today is the start of National Blood Pressure Week and the start of a massive campaign to get the UK's blood pressure checked.

Health experts in the North East are making an urgent appeal for all adults to get the check done on a regular basis - or run the risk of catastrophic health consequences.

As part of this drive, the Northumberland Care Trust has launched a life-saving plastic card which has the carrier's blood pressure reading written on it.

If the carrier ever becomes ill or visits a health professional, the patient will have his or her reading quickly to hand - and it is easier than remembering a long number.

Maggie Ireland, public health doctor with the trust, said: "Even if you're healthy and active you still need to get your blood pressure checked.

"We've designed the cards to make getting a check on your blood pressure easy, and if someone falls ill they could provide vital information to a doctor. Over the age of about 30 you should be getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked every five years.

"The checks should be slightly more frequent if you're at risk."

Dr Ireland added: "High blood pressure or hypertension is easy to treat, and if treated before the symptoms of heart disease develop greatly increases the number of healthy years someone lives."

The risk factors to look out for include:

Doing little physical activity.

Being overweight.

Having too much salt in your diet.

Drinking too much alcohol.

Not eating enough fruit and vegetables

Genes - if one or both of your parents have high blood pressure, you have a greater chance of developing it too.

Everyone's blood pressure varies during the day and it tends to be highest in the morning and lowest at night.

Blood pressure may also become high if you are anxious or under stress.

One in three adults has high blood pressure and is at serious risk of being struck unaware by a heart attack or stroke.

But many people do not even know they have the condition.

It can affect anyone. Even if you lead a healthy and active life you may have a family history of high blood pressure, making you prone to the condition as well.

It could not be easier to get a blood pressure check-up as they are free from your local GP, health centres, and many high street and supermarket pharmacies also offer a service.

A normal reading should be below 140/85mmHg or below 130/80mmHg if you have diabetes.

---------------------------------------------------------

Food facts

Salt intake can be a major factor in high blood pressure and creeps into foods where you would never expect it.

Cornflakes and digestive biscuits both contain high levels of salt so check the amounts which should be listed on the side of packets.

Instead of reading the amount of salt per 100g go for labelling which shows exactly how much is in that packet or one portion. Many high-street stores - including Boots and Marks & Spencer - are starting to do this on their food labelling.

Instead of crisps and pork pies, try eating oily fish and salads, or snack on sunflower seeds and unsalted nuts. If you stop using salt during cooking and on the dinner table you will also reduce your daily intake.

---------------------------------------------------------

Where to go for a health check this week

As part of National Blood Pressure Week, specially trained health workers will be out and about in Northumberland taking blood pressure and carbon monoxide level testing out to the community. Here is where they will be and when:

11 September 2006

Noon - 1pm Bedlingtonshire Medical Group, Glebe Road (behind Netto)

5pm - 6pm Bedlingtonshire Medical Group, Glebe Road

6pm - 9pm Asda, Ashington

12 September 2006

8.30am - 9am Bedlingtonshire Medical Group, Glebe Road

10am - 2pm Ashington Market

12pm - 1pm Bedlingtonshire Medical Group, Glebe Road

5pm - 6pm Bedlingtonshire Medical Group, Glebe Road

13 September 2006

8.30am - 9am Bedlingtonshire Medical Group, Glebe Road

Noon - 1pm Bedlingtonshire Medical Group, Glebe Road

Noon - 1.15pm Gala Bingo Hall, Milburn Road, Ashington

12.30pm - 2pm Nelson Village Social Club

5pm - 6pm Bedlingtonshire Medical Group, Glebe Road

14 September 2006

8.30am - 9am Bedlingtonshire Medical Group, Glebe Road

Noon - 1pm Bedlingtonshire Medical Group, Glebe Road

1pm - 3pm Guidepost Social Club

5pm - 6pm Bedlingtonshire Medical Group, Glebe Road

8pm - 10pm Bank House Social Club, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea

15 September 2006

8.30am - 9am Bedlingtonshire Medical Group, Glebe Road

Noon - 1pm Bedlingtonshire Medical Group, Glebe Road

5pm - 6pm Bedlingtonshire Medical Group, Glebe Road

---------------------------------------------------------

Family history leads to attack

Grandmother Carole Coyne had no idea high blood pressure could be so dangerous until she was lying in intensive care, slowly recovering after a massive heart attack.

For most of her life the 61-year-old receptionist was relatively healthy, trying to get as much exercise as possible and attempting to avoid over-indulgence.

But in February - after nearly two weeks of chest and arm pains - Carole, from Ashington, was rushed to Wansbeck General Hospital following a concerned call to NHS Direct.

"The doctors said I had been very lucky," said Carole, whose four grandchildren are aged between 10 and 17.

"I didn't really know about the risks surrounding high blood pressure and I felt fine all that time, so it was a massive shock when I had the heart attack.

"It's difficult to be too concerned about high blood pressure because there are no symptoms but I realise how important it is now."

Carole discovered she had high blood pressure around 10 years ago when she visited her GP following a minor accident.

It wasn't her lifestyle that put Carole at risk, though, but a family history of high blood pressure - a factor that many fail to take into account.

"They gave me a type of beta blocker drug to bring it down," remembered Carole, who works for Northumberland Care Trust in Morpeth.

"I took it for five years and then I decided to only take one pill a day rather than two.

"I thought this would be OK but little did I know my blood pressure was starting to soar again and I wasn't getting regular checks. After about five years I had the heart attack."

Now, after working with Northumberland Care Trust's cardiac nurse, Carole has improved her lifestyle even more, cutting down on the salt in her diet and attending regular cardiovascular exercise classes, as well as getting blood pressure checks every couple of months.

---------------------------------------------------------

Tips to keep blood pressure in check

Know your numbers and get your blood pressure checked regularly.

Eat less salt and make sure your daily intake is no more than 6g.

Be as active as possible and aim to do 30 minutes of exercise five times a week.

Cut down on alcohol.

Keep to a healthy weight and shed some pounds if you need to.

---------------------------------------------------------

Blood pressure explained

Blood pressure is the pressure of blood in your arteries.

With high blood pressure you have a greater risk of developing narrowed arteries, which may lead to heart problems, kidney disease and strokes.

If your blood pressure is high, it can be lowered by changing your lifestyle, for example changing your diet, exercising and losing weight and, when needed, with tablets.

This will reduce the risk of developing heart and brain problems that may occur if it is not treated.

Nancy Carr, cardio-vascular nurse co-ordinator for Derwentside Primary Care Trust, said: "National Blood Pressure week is a great opportunity for people to get their blood pressure measured.

"Keeping blood pressure at a healthy level is one of the most important things anyone can do to reduce these major causes of death and disability and this can only be done if everyone gets tested to know their blood pressure numbers."

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer